Tuesday 24 March 2015

New York Launch

Just back from New York having successfully launched the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine - on our second attempt!

Believe it or not the sun shone on us this time. There was a change of venue - at Studio 1 on Broadway - and we had even more people than were expected at the original launch. This time some of the guests who were invited first time round sadly couldn't make it, including Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Paschal Donohoe. But many many friends from Kerrygold, Tourism Ireland Board Bia and the Irish Dairy Board were there to cheer us on and celebrate the launch of our third LitFest which promises to be even bigger and better than previous years.

David Lebovitz (who will be speaking at this year's Litfest) was there, as were journalists from Monocle, Saveur, Martha Stewart Living, Food and Wine, Good Housekeeping, The Village Voice, and representatives from Dean & Deluca and the James Beard Foundation.

Before we left we packed up our cases with Ballymaloe brown yeast bread, homemade cheese biscuits and lots of lovely smoked salmon. Sean Hyde of Ballymaloe Country Relish USA was there to meet us with copious amounts of  Ballymaloe Relish and of course we had Kerrygold butter and cheese in abundance.

Here's what we ate...

  • Shanagarry Organic Smoked Salmon on Ballymaloe Brown Bread with Kerrygold butter and Pickled Cucumbers
  • Kerrygold Cashel Blue Cheese on a Brown Soda Cracker with Spiced Cranberries
  • Roast Fillet of Irish Beef on Brown Bread and Kerrygold butter with Horseradish Mayonnaise
  • Crudités with Aïoli
  • A selection of Kerrygold Cheese (Kerrygold Dubliner, Skellig and Vintage Cheddar) with Pickles and Brown Soda Crackers
  • Belvelly Smokehouse Smoked Mackerel and Chive Rillettes on Grilled Sourdough Bread
  • Ballymaloe Vanilla Fudge as a goodbye treat.

David Tanis of the NY times (another speaker at this year's Litfest) rolled up his sleeves along with Betsy Klein and helped Rory in the open kitchen - piling cucumber pickle on top of the smoked salmon.

It was just a few days before St Patrick's Day so lots of Irish were over in New York spreading the word about Irish food - including Clodagh McKenna launching her new book Clodagh's Irish Kitchen.

The Irish craft cider producers were in town too: Dan Kelly's, Craigies Cider and Longueville House Cider were introducing their ciders to America, sharing them with our guests and getting a terrific response. Some of the Litfest speakers including Alice Feiring (natural wine) and past Ballymaloe Cookery School students including Malcom Jackson (part-time chef at Fitzcarraldo in Brooklyn) and our very first American and international student Tambra Dillon were all there - which was a lovely surprise. 

We had a very jolly time - we are very grateful for the support of our title sponsor Kerrygold and also to Tourism Ireland for supporting the US press launch.

Wednesday 18 March 2015

For the Love of Old Cookbooks

On a chilly winters night a few weeks ago we had our first East Cork Slow Food event of the year: "How a Love Of Food And Literature Can Bring Your Life In A Different Direction" where eminent food historian Dorothy Cashman kept us riveted and whetted many peoples appetite for food history, old cookbooks and lore that they hadn’t a jot of interest in before.

Dorothy Cashman
Dorothy, herself had almost stumbled into what has now becoming an all absorbing hobby. Good wholesome food and convivial family meals were an important part of her childhood and stirred up as they do for many of us, nostalgic and happy memories.

In 1991 Dorothy decided to take a career break from her air hostess job in Aer Lingus to learn how to cook. After three months here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, her interest in all things gastronomic grew. She found herself intrigued by food history and old cookbooks and became particularly fascinated by the manuscript cookbooks of the great Irish houses. 

Interestingly, relatively little work had been done on this area, it was almost as through it was ‘air brushed’ out of our history. Most cookbooks, including my own Traditional Irish Cooking had concentrated on the food of the poor and middle classes, simple, nourishing and often delicious, but hardly sophisticated food.

However, Dorothy quickly discovered that the clichéd image of traditional Irish food was only part of the story. As in every country, the food depended on the social status and economic situation of the family. The food eaten in many of the great houses was fascinating and reflected the fresh produce of the estate. Fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit from the walled garden, orchards and greenhouses. Game during the season and fish from the local rivers and lakes or a fish pond on the estate. Several houses had a ready supply of squabs from their columbarium and there were many ice houses, some of which are still in existence. The cook, with a few notable exceptions ,was local but often incorporated recipes into their repertoire that the lady of the house had got from friends or had collected on the Grand Tour of Europe.

Fortunately, the lady of the house sometimes recorded the 'receipts' as they were then known into a beautiful bound book in exquisite copper plate handwriting. These manuscript cookbooks are an important social record as well as a deeply personal account of what the family was eating at that point in time. They were never meant to be published or read outside of the family circle so they are invariably written in a casual unguarded style, with the occasional aside or alteration. 

Image from http://www.heritagerecipes.com/

From some of the entries one might deduce that the lady of the house, not herself a cook, was transcribing the cooks receipt as it was relayed to her. The cook, particularly in earlier years, may well have been illiterate and her mistress often had little understanding of quantities or cooking techniques so not all recipes are accurate or can be relied on to work. There’s also the possibility that some cooks didn’t necessarily want to share their secrets!

Dorothy discovered an extensive archive of manuscript cookbooks dating from 1700 to mid/late 1800 in the National Library and has since embarked on a fascinating research project, a journey of discovery where each little clue opens new doors and gives new insights into our traditions and food culture. And the fascinating families who lived in these houses, brought recipes with them from their childhood homes and collected and shared with their friends and neighbouring estates.

Dorothy, stressed that there are still handwritten recipe collections often written in simple copy books in the back of drawers or in a box in the attic in many homes, these are really worth rescuing. They may not be of sufficient interest to be part of the national collection but each is worth saving as a family heirloom.

If you think you have a manuscript cookbook that may be of interest, contact Dorothy Cashman at dorothycashman1@eircom.net.

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Turkish Delights... My Travels to Istanbul

I've been longing to go to Turkey for ages, and have just got back from my very first visit. I was totally taken in by those touristy shots of azure skies... but of course that was summer... and I had decided to go - in February! You're not going to believe this, but just after we arrived it started to snow and continued for ten days until the day before we left. One morning it was -14C, and was I glad to have my Uggs and woolly hat with the big bobble that my youngest daughter had given me for Christmas. We seem to be followed by snow on all our travels at the moment.

It certainly won't be our last visit to Turkey, we loved it ... but next time we look forward to seeing it in the sunshine as well.

Istanbul is just as spectacular as you've heard with domes and minarets gracing the skyline. On the first day, before the snow really got a grip,  Claudia Turgut from Unison Turkey took us on a culinary skite around Istanbul. We ambled through the narrow cobbled streets, peeping into ancient Karavanseri where the nomad merchants and their camels rested when they came to trade in Constantinople during the Ottoman era.

We wandered through the Kadikoy fish market on the edge of Bosphurus, watched and licked our lips at the stalls making fish sandwiches balik ekmek with grilled mackerel and Black Sea salmon.

We crossed the Galata bridge where over a hundred earnest men in anoraks and woolly caps were fishing over the  ornate railings - a wonderful spectacle.

Close to the Spice Market we bought simit, a Turkish bagel glazed with pekmez (grape molasses) and sprinkled with sesame seeds from one of the thousands of carts that are scattered around the city. Red and gold carts sell roasted chestnuts and grilled sweetcorn.

Shop after shop around the edge sell a huge selection of fruit, nuts, roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, lady fingers (okra), garlands of dried aubergines...

I tasted dried persimmon here for the first time - and brought home a bag to try them in recipes here at home.

Inside the Spice Market there seem to be more jewellery than spice shops, but many sell a huge range of lokum (turkish delight), fruit and nut roll ups, candies...

And huge mounds of nougat and baklava in every shape and form.

Interestingly, Turkish cooks don't use many spices but lots of dried herbs: mint, thyme, marjoram and of course dried chilli flakes are all essential condiments.

In the midst of the Spice Market we find Can Kurtaran Gida, a particularly good shop selling many types of wild honey. There was sucur, their breakfast beef sausage, beloved of the Turks. Turkish pastrami, beautiful yellow butter from Urfa in the Black Sea area, a variety of interesting Turkish cheeses including Tulum, a delicious sheep's cheese from Erzincan that matures in a goats skin and Kaymak, a buffalo cream that's divine with honey. I shudder to think what will happen to some of these beautiful foods if Turkey joins the EU.

Over six hours later, I had walked about five miles and tasted over twenty unique street foods: borek (savoury pastries) kokorec (chargrilled lamb's intestines), kofte (plump little spicy meat croquettes with pointy ends)...

Lahmajun (Turkish pizza, eaten with a wedge of lemon and lots of fresh parsley), pide (slightly leavened bread, sometimes round and sometimes boat shaped with meat or vegetable fillings - baked in a wood-fired oven).

Some of the drinks we tried included: ayran - a diluted frothy yogurt drink, freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, boza - a fermented millet drink that is believed to cure plague and many other ills. It tastes like a slightly fizzy apple puree, and is served with roasted chickpeas sprinkled on the top.

We learned a ton about Turkish culture, food and traditions.

Another memorable part of our trip was Cappadocia in central Anatolia with its underground cities, cave dwellings and fairy chimneys.  It really is a "must add" to your travel wish list.

Tuesday 3 March 2015

St Patrick's Day Pop Up Dinner

For the last six years Tourism Ireland has created a tradition of "greening" the world to celebrate St Patrick's Day - illuminating some of the world's most iconic landmarks in green light. This year the Coliseum in Rome and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville will join the Sydney Opera House, the Great Wall of China, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Niagara Falls...

It is an inspired way to celebrate St Patrick's Day, which focuses global attention on Ireland, and as you can imagine is a source of great pride to the Irish diaspora scattered all over the world.

So here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, where we have 14 nationalities at present on the 12 Week Course - the students are expecting some real excitement on the big day. So we've decided to do a Pop-Up dinner in the Garden Cafe at the Cookery School, on March 17th at 7pm. 

Everyone's getting out their green bling - Pam has got free rein to decorate. We have a competition for the students to see who can come up with the best green dessert, cake or cookie - green colouring, wood sorrell, angelica, green cherries are all set to feature, I'm sure - and there's a very covetable prize for the winner.

You'll be greeted with an aperitif and lots of nibbles, followed by three delicious courses plus the St Patrick's Day dessert creations. We're also hoping to have some great traditional music.

It's a Slow Food event, so the proceeds will go to the East Cork Slow Food Education Project.

Slow Food members €40, and non-Slow Food members €45.

Places are limited, booking essential. 021 4646785